August 2011

Lon Chaney - the first of the great actors

In some ways, it’s only appropriate.  The first great actor should come out of the horror genre.  After all, the horror genre was the first great collection of films.  And it wasn’t just American films, either.  In fact, two of the best films of the silent era were German horror films – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu.  Then the genius seemed to travel across the Atlantic (literally, in the case of Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau) and great horror films began to bloom in the States.  At the forefront of that was Lon Chaney, one of the great actors in film history.  He also became one of the first great losses to film history when he died at the age of 47 of lung cancer in 1930, 81 years ago today.


Veronica has a conference in Chicago on Thursday.  We are off today, via Canada and Wisconsin.  Then afterwards, we are off to Oregon before coming home.  Posts will be a bit slower until we get back, just after Labor Day.

The gold Modern Library hardcover of John Irving's The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp

  • Author:  John Irving  (b. 1942)
  • Rank:  #33
  • Published:  1978
  • Publisher:  E.P. Dutton
  • Pages:  609
  • First Line:  “Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater.”
  • Last Line:  “But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”
  • Acclaim:  National Book Award
  • ML Edition:  1998 gold hardcover
  • Film:  1982  (dir. George Roy Hill – ***)
  • First Read:  Summer 1994 (more…)

The brilliant reveal of Lon Chaney as the Phantom - some of the best makeup work in film history

My DVR is going nuts today as I record 9 films in the next 24 hours.  It’s Lon Chaney Day on TCM and if you’re not excited, you should be.  If you love film, then you should love Chaney.

I am up to the 90’s in my current two film series, but don’t think I’m not still looking back at classic films.  I was stunned to see that TCM had 9 Chaney films that I hadn’t seen and I intend to make sure I watch them.

How great is Chaney?  Well, I ranked his performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame as the third best of the 20’s and his performance in Phantom of the Opera as the sixth best.  Though I listed Emil Jannings as the best actor of the 20’s, I think now I was wrong.  In fact, since Chaplin made so few feature-length films, I think there is a strong argument to be made that Lon Chaney was the greatest actor of the Silent Era.  If you don’t believe me, then make sure you watch the films today.  They started at 6 this morning, but they go until 6 tomorrow, so you have plenty of time to catch them.

Here are some of the highlights:

the first eerie shot of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The 64th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 1991.  The nominations were announced on February 19, 1992 and the awards were held on March 30, 1992.

Best Picture:  The Silence of the Lambs

  • JFK
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Bugsy
  • The Prince of Tides

Most Surprising Omission:  Thelma and Louise

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  The Fisher King

Rank (out of 83) Among Best Picture Years:  #9


Two performances for the ages: Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs (1991)

My Top 20:

  1. Silence of the Lambs
  2. JFK
  3. Beauty and the Beast
  4. The Fisher King
  5. Europa Europa
  6. Boyz N the Hood
  7. The Commitments
  8. Grand Canyon
  9. Dead Again
  10. Thelma and Louise
  11. Homicide
  12. Truly, Madly, Deeply
  13. City of Hope
  14. Life is Sweet
  15. Barton Fink
  16. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  17. Ju Dou
  18. Bugsy
  19. La Femme Nikita
  20. The Double Life of Veronique


the Nighthawk for which it is all named

Does the name Kyle Richmond mean anything to you?  Probably not.  It means something to me, though.  At the height of comic book obsession, around about seventh grade, I desperately wanted to be a comic book writer.  I would spend countless hours explaining to people that no, I can’t draw, and that perhaps they couldn’t grasp what it meant to be a writer.  I hope today, with all the people who read Kavalier & Clay, that they would understand the difference.

Well, I was trying to figure out a character, and I wrote an entire character from outside the Marvel Universe.  This was in the days just after Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC was in the process of getting rid of all their multiple realities and I thought it would work well for Marvel.  I envisioned a character who would cross over from our own Earth, a comic fan who happens to have the whole knowledge of the Marvel Universe at his fingertips.  So, he would naturally choose to be a hero with some significance.

Enter Nighthawk.  Otherwise known as Kyle Richmond.  There were two Kyle Richmonds in the Marvel Universe, from two different worlds – the primary Marvel Earth and the one from the Squadron Supreme Earth.  Both were blatantly ripped off from Batman, but both of them had recently died.  The primary one had died saving the Defenders.  The other one had died in an effort to make the Squadron Supreme realize the error of their ways (more on that below).  So I wrote a character who picked up Kyle’s mantle and carried it forward.

Nothing came of the character idea.  But everything came of it.  I’ve had a few different Yahoo e-mail addresses, but for 13 years now they have all been variations on Nighthawk.  This blog is called Nighthawk News because that’s the character I have stuck with.  And it only seems right to use that as a kick in to a new list – 10 comic books to remember.


the great punch thrown to Hitler's face on the cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

  • Author:  Michael Chabon
  • Rank:  #34
  • Published:  2000
  • Publisher:  Random House
  • Pages:  639
  • First Line:  “In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.”
  • Last Line:  “When Rosa and Joe picked it up they saw that Sammy had taken a pen and, bearing down, crossed out the name of the never-more-than-theoretical family that was printed above the address, and in its place written, sealed in a neat black rectangle, knotted by the stout cord of an ampersand, the words KAVALIER & CLAY.”
  • Acclaim:  Pulitzer Prize; National Book Critics Circle Finalist; PEN/Faulkner Finalist
  • ML Edition:  none
  • Film:  in production hell
  • First Read:  Fall, 2000 (more…)